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- A Disconnect from Gringolandia about Latin America
Sometimes there comes disconnects that you have with folks back home about life in Latin America.
And it don’t matter how many times you reiterate yourself about life down here…
In my experience, it sometimes feels like kicking water uphill.
You are basically engaging in an activity where you won’t win.
As folks back home either carry with them preconceived notions about life down here that seem out of place with how life is.
In large part because perhaps they never spent time down here…
And also because sometimes they just have preconceived notions that they can never shake off for whatever reason.
Other times I find it crazy.
On top of that, as I will point out later in the article, the disconnect can also go both ways.
In which you also forget how things are back home or your perception of aspects of life change over enough time down here.
Either way, as I said, the gap between reality down here versus the perception can be big at times.
On small and larger aspects of life down here.
So let's get into it.
By diving into a recent conversation I had with my sister.
Not to pick on her but it was simply the last conversation I had on this topic with someone back home.
“Do They Have X?”
To be fair, my sister is not really guilty of this one all too much.
And we’d have to go back a few years before to find an example of her being guilty of what I’m going to talk about here…
Which is the “Do they have X?” question in regards to life down here.
Where X is a simple product that you would normally expect anyone to have.
And often the folks asking this would ask it about any country down here – no matter how developed it is.
I wrote a longer article about this subject here as you can read about it.
Where I have had folks ask me if they have “computers, cars and soap” in specific Latin countries like Argentina to Mexico.
When it comes to my sister, I’ll be fair in saying that again she isn’t very guilty with this type of dumb question.
Because it is dumb – no matter how inexperienced one might be – to assume that such a basic product as soap or cars would not exist in any specific country down here.
However, funny enough, I do remember one time her asking me a similar type of question years after I came back from a trip from South America…
I arrived to my hometown from some time in Colombia…
To which we had a little family party waiting for my arrival at my dad’s place.
Anyway, she asked the question about if Colombia and “other countries down here” have certain restaurants like Dominos, Subway, etc.
Which, to be fair, that isn’t the same as asking if the have soap or cars down here.
That type of question about if large American businesses have penetrated the markets down here is reasonable.
Especially if you have never left the US and have no idea about how large American businesses have actually expanded abroad quite well.
Fast food businesses?
I’ve been asked that question by a few folks down here.
It’s a bit silly in my opinion to be asked that.
Of course they have Dominos down here!
But I’m also used to life down here so it seems normal to me.
You could argue, in this case, that I have become more ignorant or forgetful of how it is to travel to another country when you have never traveled abroad before.
So it requires some self-reflection to realize that sometimes we forget how we know so little about life abroad when we don’t live abroad.
Either way, carrying it forward....
“Karla? Brenda? Paul?”
This is another funny question you get.
Something that again seems like such a dumb question….
But it is something you realize simply comes from a lack of experience with life abroad down here.
During one conversation with my sister…
I remember a year or ago so I was talking with her over the phone…
And I mentioned how an ex-girlfriend of mine named Marcela was messaging me.
Right after her sister, Karla, messaged me and wanted to friend me on Facebook.
To which we had a conversation and she was down for some drinks if I’m ever back in the Colombian city of Quilla.
Which, to be honest, sure seems like a solid deal as I always wanted to fuck her sister when I was dating Marcela.
Karla was a hot Morena type chick who all around had a much more playful personality.
In many ways, Karla would be pretty cool to fuck.
Anyway, I was talking with my sister about how her sister was reaching out to me and all…
And mentioned her sister’s name – Karla.
Casually – “Karla messaged me and we got talking.”
And it was surprising to my sister that her name was Karla.
Not surprising like she gasped or nothing.
But just how she seemed curious about how someone down here could be named “Karla.”
“Sounds like a name women have up here” she mentioned.
To which I remember replying about how quite a few Latino names down here are common names up there.
Not just Karla…
But Brenda, Paul, Jessica, etc.
And you even have, in Mexico anyway, people naming their kids names like Karen and Bryan.
Though, to be honest, I’m not even sure if names like Bryan or Karen are ever common enough in other Latin countries outside of Mexico.
Because I do feel Mexico can be a little bit more “Americanized” in that sense.
Simply because we have more American influence and Americans marrying Mexicans down here.
But Karla was from Colombia.
And you can find names in the rest of Latin America that are the same of typical names back home in the US.
To folks, like my sister, that can seem unusual perhaps.
Perhaps because folks tend to think that a foreign culture in a place like Colombia would have different names from what we are used to back home.
Names like Alejandra or Raul.
Again, it is a minor disconnect between perception from folks outside Latin America and the reality down here.
But it makes you again realize that even the most basic aspects of life down here – such as the names of people down here – are seen differently by folks back home.
Though it goes deeper than just that….
This was a funny one to me.
And, to be fair, it was a good question by my sister.
Because it makes a lot more sense and also made me do some self-relfecting.
Today, I got talking with my sister again.
As I wrote here, I am researching how to write a book about Mexico City.
And I asked my sister about what would be some questions she’d have if she had to move to Mexico City in a year.
Anyway, she was talking about jobs obviously.
And it was something I didn’t even think about.
Simply because I wrote that off completely.
I assumed most gringos moving down here would not be looking for a local job to work at.
Simply because I don’t know a single gringo who lives down here working a local job.
I’m sure they exist!
Working at the embassy or for some big multinational corporation or as a journalist…
Though I never met those folks!
Maybe even some working at the local 7-11….
But that last thought is why I found it so funny….
Outside of very specific opportunities like those above or teaching English maybe…
I can’t see a typical Mexican or Latino employer hiring one of us gringos to work for them.
Be it a job at 7-11 or maybe being a math teacher or maybe a security guard for some random building….
I don’t see it.
For a variety of reasons.
First, they’d assume we don’t speak Spanish perfectly enough.
Second, said gringo would need the official permission to work by the national government and not everyone can get that….
Third, it can be expensive, from what I would assume, for the local employer to hire a foreigner.
Fourth, it might be deemed not worth it for us as we can usually make more money online or self-employed than what most local jobs would pay.
Fifth, most gringos just aren’t looking to be the best taco cook for some street food in Mexico City.
Sixth, most local jobs pay shit.
And whatever else…
My sister was wondering if it’d be possible to do mental health services down here as she is familiar with that…
And if her husband can be a nurse down here…
That I found funny.
I can’t imagine a non-Latino gringo coming down here to be a nurse in this part of the world.
Or work in mental health.
In this case, it was just a more eye-opener for me to be honest.
In how you spend enough time down here…
And some things like “finding a local job” don’t even come to mind when you think of what to write about when it comes to making a life in Mexico City for a book.
Simply because I have always been self-employed.
But my sister seemed amazed that a foreigner like one of us can’t just do that down here.
Get a local job.
That it's a lot harder and how most traditional jobs are not likely at all for us.
To me, it just makes more sense to pursue self-employment.
And, when we are speaking of "the disconnect," this is actually a good example of how it goes the other way.
For most of this article, I talk about the disconnect folks back home have about life here.
In this case, you can argue I have the disconnect.
When you live down here long enough, you will start to forget how certain things that you now consider to be normal would not be considered normal back home.
Like how I am essentially unable to enjoy most of the traditional job opportunities here abroad in Latin America.
Something I consider normal but was disconnected from the reality that is not normal to most folks back home.
So it was a good question either way since it provoked that type of self-reflection on my part.
It can go both ways.
But beyond employment opportunities and how to support yourself…..
This is one aspect of the disconnect that I have realized forever.
Similar to the job opportunities example, it's also understandable.
And have written about elsewhere on my website.
So I will keep it simple.
But it was part of the conversation I had with my sister today.
When talking with her about “moving to Mexico,” she mentioned how she always saw Mexico as just a bunch of poor slums and beaches.
To be fair, I get it.
I’d disagree with that perspective lol.
But I get the sentiment.
It’s similar to whenever I’m back home…
And she mentions how dangerous our hometown has gotten…
And she brings up some random dude who gets shot or stabbed…
I don’t give a fuck.
“OK, some dude got shot? What you want?”
And it’s true – who gives a fuck?
I remember, in particular, how she brought up years ago about some random dude being stabbed a shit ton of times.
Some other dude killed him stabbing him like literally 50 times according to the autopsy apparently.
And it didn't seem crazy to me.
People get stabbed all the time -- who cares?
So, in this case, I feel the disconnect also comes from within me also.
Perhaps you can argue that my perception of what is dangerous has changed over the years of living abroad.
That has been her argument at times.
And it's true.
I also feel that crime in small towns is more in your face than in a big city where nobody knows nobody.
Similar to the example regarding job opportunities, you can just as easily argue that I have the disconnect here.
Though I feel her disconnect, in part, comes from seeing Mexico as just a bunch of slums.
But there's a disconnect on my end when it comes to this also.
You live in more dangerous areas long enough and your own perception of what is dangerous changes to a degree.
To which then folks back home find you to be disconnected from their reality of what is dangerous.
As I said before, the disconnect can go both ways.
“Didn’t Pablo Do Lots of Good?”
This is the one that fucked with my head after we ended our call.
Basically, I was talking with her about my plans going forward in the next few years.
And I jokingly said how I could traffic drugs into the US for a quick 5K or whatever they’d pay.
She got concerned and tried talking me out of it.
“Like OK Matt but is it worth it? You could go to jail. And how much does 5K give?”
And I was telling her that I could scale my living down like before and live on 300 a month.
Or like 16 months of living expenses?
If I lived near Cuatro Caminos again as you can read here…
Granted, I wouldn’t do that.
I’m cool with my lavish life of 700 a month lol….
Anyway, she jumped on it.
“Like OK but is 16 months of living costs much though?” she said.
Over a year there, ain’t it?
Of course, I was just fucking with her.
And I told her as such.
Anyway, the conversation turned from there to Pablo Escobar somehow.
And that’s the other disconnect I think of…
Well, the other one that comes up in our conversations anyway.
There’s many more but they don’t all come up in our conversations.
Other folks carry other disconnects.
But I’m just talking about my time talking my sister…
Where the conversation took a turn and she ended up defending Pablo Escobar.
Talking good shit about him like “but didn’t he do good shit for rural communities?”
Which, being honest, I found annoying.
I always find annoying any gringo who tries justifying dumb cunts down here like Fidel, Che Guevara, Pablo Escobar, etc.
It’s almost always white liberal types who talk a good shit about these dumb cunts with propaganda they read on Vice or whatever.
Anyway, I brought it back to her – “so if I set off a car bomb and killed your daughter, would we be cool if I happened to build a school in rural Alabama?”
I mean shit bro….
I helped a rural community in Alabama…
So if I kill someone you love and so many other innocents…
Like we cool?
After all, I did help that rural community in Alabama yo…..
Anyway, I obviously take issue with anyone who says good shit about Pablo or other folks like him.
It always seems retarded to me how anyone could say good shit about him.
A mass murderer who fucked over so many communities and you going to bat for the guy?
Should I start defending Timothy McVeigh?
If I dig into his past enough, I’m sure I could find some good shit about him.
Maybe he tutored blind kids at some point growing up?
I don't know.
But let’s alleviate the severity of the damage he did to hundreds of people because of some good acts he did earlier in life.
And, when it comes to Pablo, you can change hundreds to millions maybe.
But he did help poor communities, am I right?!?
Anyway, that topic carried on between us in which I tried arguing that only folks on the political left are likely to ever say the same shit she did about Pablo.
Which I think is true.
I’ve never seen a dude on the political right try to alleviate the damage he did by bringing up his good.
Same thing with Che Guevara.
And the political solidarity with Guevara is even more pronounced.
Though, to be fair, folks on the political right have their demons that they try to talk nicely about.
And, to be fair, sometimes it's not always political when folks glorify folks like Escobar.
Sometimes it's just a simple glorification of drugs and drug lords.
Which is still stupid but whatever.
Anyway, I leave it at that.
Regardless, let’s end it all on some final thoughts.
I could’ve brought up more examples of the disconnect between what folks think back home and how life is down here really.
On the smaller topics like the names of folks here to the deeper topics like the politics of folks like Pablo.
But these are just examples.
And I wanted to stay on the topic of just those between my sister and I to keep the theme of the article consistent.
Again, the article isn't meant to pick on her but instead just bring up a relevant conversation we had today.
And how that conversation made me realize again that sometimes there is a disconnect (that goes both ways) regarding how life down here compares to life back home.
I could’ve brought up other examples had I brought up other folks.
If you have any other examples, bring them up below in the comment section.
Anyway, the major point in this article…
Or major points…
First, you will find that there are differences between the perception of how folks back home consider life in Latin America and how it really is.
Second, there will be basic things folks back home don’t know like typical names of folks down here or whatever.
Third, always get that your motivations for why you live here might always be not entirely understandable by folks back home because they have different values for what they want in life. That’s OK.
Fourth, sometimes talking with folks about life here can be rewarding in that it allows you a moment to let shit off your chest. However, whatever you are saying might not be relatable to folks back home simply because it can be a very different life down here.
Fifth, sometimes the disconnect can be coming from you as you live down here long enough and forget how things can be back home at times.
It can go both ways.
Anyway, that’s all I can think of in the moment.
If you have any observations yourself, drop them below.
Follow my Twitter here.
And thanks for reading.
I think that’s a great question from your sister about working because people find their place (wherever that might be…) and they think ‘how do we keep the party going?’ and it is mostly teaching English – lucky to have that to be honest! Can you imagine being a monolingual Bulgarian wanting to stay in Mexico, how many people want to learn Bulgarian from a native speaker? He would be lucky to feed himself from a taco stand once a day.
Safety is a good subject to broach because loads of stupid fuckers love ‘poverty tourism’ (especially in Latin America) I don’t think it’s much to do with political affiliations rather than people get off on other peoples poverty and think it’s noble for some reason. A lot of people get off on going to the shittiest parts of the city – usually with a big fuck off camera and wearing headphones or wearing a t-shirt telling the world where they went to college – not like they stick out in some shitty third world barrio as it is! Taking pictures of everything and they wonder why they end up getting mugged of their trainers!
Names: I don’t know how it is in Mexico but there is this irritating trend of Peruvians calling their kids ‘Yohny’ or ‘Mishell’ or just basically misspelling English (Hebrew? French?) names – what’s wrong with Jose and Maria? Good Spanish names – that my relatives have kept to even to this day thankfully! I know this has nothing to do with your point but the naming of children has changed massively in parts of Latin America over the past twenty years.
PS: A great friend of mine was round our house when my mum switched the light on and he goes ‘ooh look, light’ as he pointed to the light bulb at the ceiling and my mum nuked his ass there and then – it was as funny as shit though, my little sister laughed her head off!